The Age of Interconnectivity

A few years ago I suggested that postmodernism was on it’s last leg and projected that by 2020 it would be “history,” as they say.

Maybe it was intuition. Maybe it was just hoping. Most likely it was just been boredom with so many years of the “postmodern”.

It is true, the last half of the twentieth century can be described as a time of “posts” — postmodern, postchristian, posthuman, postcapitalist, postwestern, postfoundationalist, postdenominational, post-christian, post-post modern — with an endless list of things that were “post.” Everything was suspected to be at the end of its life expectancy. By the end of the decade I was sick of “postmodernism.” Everybody seemed brave enough to declare that the world as we knew it was coming to an end. But few turned around to name the world that was emerging. Mostly because no one knew.

THE AGE OF INTERCONNECTIVITY

Recently while passing through Washington DC, I met with a group of local leaders. There were High Schoolers in the mix so I asked them a question.

“How often do you connect with your friends online?”

I expected their answer to enlighten the group about the way the world is interconnected. Their answer surprised me.

They were unable to answer my question the way I asked it. There could be no answer to the question, how often? They were always connected. Always. With each emerging generation, the Cyber network that connects so many of us becomes less and less like a tool and more and more like the central nervous system of the human community.

What is true of high school students is true in practically every sector of society. Think business — it is difficult to survive without online connectivty — or research — think of writing a paper without google — or school — in Florida public school students can opt for a Virtual School Education — or even dating.
Like our central nervous system, even when we sleep, the network is on keeping us connected.

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This will only increase as we merge with our technology in significant ways. Eventually, the human brain will be wirelessly able to connect to our networks and our environments will be “active” and ‘alive” with the information beam that will make all our computing technologies available to us wherever we are. We will not need our computers. We will embody them.

There’s a lot of interest in the singular moment when a computer “wakes up” and artificial intelligence will be born. But long before Artificial Intelligence opens its eyes, organic intelligence will become biotic intelligence. We will make ourselves more durable, more intelligence, more capable, more impressive by incorporating technology into our bodies.

What do these kinds of technology have to do with The Age of Interconnectedness?

Let’s make the point with an example. Japan, infamous for it’s culture of suicide, is experiencing an upsurge in suicides. It has become a “fad” according to a recent USA Today article. Because of Japan’s history — The Samurai who disembowels himself rather than surrender, the Kamikaze pilots who crash their planes into their target — suicide is not considered a “sin,” but a virtue. Rather than make a family suffer, a Japanese man, for example, who loses his job, will commit suicide in order to collect the insurance to pay off his family debt and perhaps save the family home.

Here’s where it gets scary. The Internet allows “depressed Japanese” to find each other and enter death pacts together. A recent USA Today article tells us that

“A few years ago, suicidal Japanese were meeting each other online, driving out into the countryside, shutting themselves up in the back of vans and killing themselves…”

Anti-suicide activist Koji Tsukino is quoted:

“People really want to be connected. People get together to die.”

This is a chilling example of two tremendous forces dovetailing into one another. The human need to “be together” (in person) even in death is amplified by the technological capacity to “be together” (online). I suggest that we live in the Age of Interconnectivity for three reasons.

First, we cannot separate what it means to be human from the deep drive to be connected. This seems to true in every age.

Second, the drive to be interconnected is so deeply entrenched in our experience that we experience it as vulnerability. Think about what you feel when your internet goes down, or your website crashes, or your mobile is disconnected. We feel alone. Isolated. Vulnerable. We are unable to perform our work or stay in touch with our friends and family.

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Even enemies are deeply interconnected. Westerners watch Jihadist behead a journalist in their own living rooms via the internet. Muslims take sneak peeks at western culture online when no one is looking.

We live in the Age of Interconnectivity or, if you prefer, Interconnectedness. Even as fragmented and divided as our world is, ours is a world linked together. Each broken piece of our world has a link to the other. For better or worse our fragmented world is interconnected.

Third, Few are shocked or flustered to think that the Era of Modernity is over. Few are shocked to hear or to imagine that Age of Christendom is over. In fact, a lot of missional leaders have received the passing of both Modernity and Christendom as an opportunity for the Christ following movement to renew itself and tell the story of Jesus in a way that attracts and includes all the peoples of the earth.

But everyone would be distressed if the world wide web and our mobile phones suddenly refused to work. Take away my religion but leave me my iPhone. What matters to us and what scares us has changed. We would be extremely and globally distressed if our interconnectedness were somehow interrupted. Our technological capacities have made our primal need of connection to others extreme, ubiquitous and continous. This is a clue to the nature of the age we live in.

The West may not be Modern or Christian anymore, but it is still in search of its own humanity. And humans need each other so much that they will even gather to die together. The enhanced and widely accessible ability to connect may be the distinctive feature of our age –The Interconnected Age.

What do you think?

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31 thoughts on “The Age of Interconnectivity

  1. Very funny, Mark.

    Tom, that’s interesting…we find ourselves in our interconnectedness. nice

    Shawna, yes, we are isolated, lonely, even alienated. Disconnectedness is also a characteristic of the Age of Interconnectedness. (Maybe even of every age). It’s a similar phenom to urbanization—people living in closer proximity to one another yet living with a deeper sense of alienation. It may be that our Interconnectedness will exacerbate our isolation.

  2. My ability to connect and find others that value what I value gives me hope. The world is a bigger “pool” to draw from than my neighborhood, workplace, school, “church”, etc.. Without the avenues for connectedness how would I find myself?

  3. What is interesting about the interconnectivity, is that our desire to be connected via technology was a result that technology fostered. the need to belong is right above the need for security and food/shelter according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs/wants. So the basic human need to belong is ingrained in our being. Before there was all this technology, humans had more concrete/literal spaces/places of connecting/belonging, but in our current age, we are working more in isolation, and living more isolated lives which has created a need for humans to figure out new ways of connecting in this cyber world that has been developed, mostly, ironically, to help us do our work faster so that we would have more time… for family and friends… hmmm.

  4. The ability to find others on the journey I am on and are growing to dicover and value what I value gives me hope. The world is a bigger “pool” to draw from than my neighborhood, workplace, school, “church”, etc.. Without the avenues for connectedness and the “glocal” community how would I find myself?

  5. I just read my 18 year old brother-in-law’s Facebook status: “Ollie won’t have internet until Thursday. So long, contact with world!”. Thought that summed things up nicely linked with this post!

  6. Laza, Thanks for the comment. Yes, technology is nothing more than an extension of man. Tech only amplifies what man already does — heal, destroy, speak, see, hear, etc. Web community is nothing more than man extending his capacity to connect with others. As such I don’t think it is driven by a deficiency in social skills but rather by this inherent drive to connect with others. Here’s another place where I may differ…what does the future church (in a world in which relationships and community have a cyber dimension) look like. Voxtropolis is one way we’re feeling our way forward into that future.

  7. The drive for interconnectivity via the web is our basic need for community. It is community that gives us worth and identity. Unfortunately I believe it is also driven by a growing deficiency in social skills. It is far safer and easier to “make friends” on the web, then face to face and there is little cost to ending a web relationship. The web is not the answer to community. The church needs to wake up and show the way to and provide true community. Face to face, heart to heart, life to life community.

  8. I resonate with Shawna’s reference to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs/wants. I’ve made the observation that it is in large part the loss of human interaction and contact in retirement that speeds the downward spiral in older adults. I watched my father’s quick decline after he had to give up the social connectivity of going to work on a daily basis in his mid-eighties. I am currently in a transition having left a ministry I helped found some eleven years ago and am struck not only with the sense of “loss” associated with leaving something you “created” but the sense of void of that daily, moment-by-moment interaction with colleagues. We do indeed need one another.

  9. By 2050, virtual tools and AI will probably be woven into the very fabric of our lives, for better and worse. As technology learns to react and adapt to our emotions and thoughts, and perhaps even faith, we should be well beyond the transition from insular Christendom to an organically-connected global community of faith.

    Nice post Alex.

  10. Alex,

    This actually hits on some topics I’m working through in an ethics class at Fuller. I think the book we’re reading and the discussion is already dated.

    When is your book coming available? Any chance of obtaining an early manuscript. It would be hugely helpful for an upcoming paper and presentation.

    Blessings, Chad

  11. Having been a painter in art school in the late 80’s we spent ALOT of time talking about Post-modernism, and more importantly whats next…as all art school lackies do.

    Now being a christ follower who helps bring people along side in my journey, I have to ask, what does the Age of Interconnectivity look like for the church.

    I think it is easy to say that the church should adopt technologies to expand its reach/impact, or to build the gathering entity into the web (ie Lifechurch.tv’s Second Life Campus) but the real question is what kind of interpersonal structural changes are taking place, and more importantly what are some PRACTICAL ways to implement in our own gatherings of believers. I sense a real re-formation of what the church looks like and should be, but I do have trouble trying to understand what that truly looks like (knowing that it will likely be different for different groups)

    I really like the Planting a church vs launching a culture article, just wondering what your thoughts are on the actual gathering time.

  12. David Q, You’re right. It may be easy to say it, and we should say it, because the church is often a late adapter and needs to hear it.

    One major interpersonal structural change is what we have called the shift in the space-time continuum — by which we mean that relationships are now not limited by time and space. Contact and communication have put us in touch with others who do not share our physical space. Yes, a consequence of this is that it may at the same time put us out of touch with those in close proximity.

    In terms of a PRACTICAL way of implementing in our gatherings, there are many, but one of the most interesting aspects of this is how “gathering” may either become less relevant or redefined to be something other than what it is today and has been for 2000 years.

    In terms of the actual gathering, it hard to know where our new connectivity is not already a part of them. One question may be, how do we harness that?

    Thanks for you input and questions. Nice.

  13. Alex, thanks for your feedback. I would agree that the web community is being driven my our inherent need to connect. I would also say that it can act as an extension but only if their is time given to person on person community. This is much more difficult today due to people moving frequently and traveling greater distances to work, etc. It takes more effort. But I have also discovered that many lack basic social skills to engage others in conversation that goes beyond the superficial. I think the danger of the web community is that people may believe it is just as beneficial and meaningful as a personal community and because it is easier to access and safer, they tend to drift in that direction.

    I have friends that I text and email frequently, but the value of those is greatly increased by the personal time we spend together. It is then that we really experience acceptance, grace, when we get under each others skin. Our e-words then have much more meaning.

    But I know of people who spend hours each evening on MSN and facebook and talk about all the friends they have. I think we need to recognize the limit of e-communication. It can communicate information, opinions and to some extent feelings. But it can’t replace seeing the look on someone’s face, seeing their body language, feeling their presence when they are poking issues of the heart.

    I love e-communication for the way it can keep me in touch with people but if I don’t spend time with a person, it becomes less and less meaningful and the relationship becomes more and more shallow.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic, it is important.

    Laza

  14. Laza,

    I really agree with you, that we often fall into the trap of leaning on our e-communication at the expense of our interpersonal “real” relationships.

    One other aspect of this that interests me is the use of spiritual gifts. I believe very strongly that God is in the process of revitalizing the use of our gifts, particularly those gifts that bring attention to himself – such as prophecy and healing. The practice of gifts seems impractical in this era of interconnectivity.

    What do you think about seeing the e-world as a conductor of needs and organizing of groups? Potentially this level of communication could break down barriers of institutional churches (ie denominational and racial) in exchange for super-cooperation??

    Man that would be cool.

    Alex,

    “redefined to be something other than what it is today and has been for 2000 years” Now THAT is the crux of all my questions…I want to get to that, figure it out, and help create something that is supernatural in its relationships and in its Love. Just wish I knew what it looks like.

    DQ

  15. 1. “it’s” = “it is.”

    2. “Eventually, the human brain will be wirelessly able to connect to our networks and our environments will be ‘active’ and ‘alive’ with the information beam that will make all our computing technologies available to us wherever we are. We will not need our computers. We will embody them.”

    That’s not postmodern?

  16. It’s postmodern because it says or implies that our humanity is not something eternal and unchangeable, but something malleable and up for grabs. It says that the dividing line between our bodies and the world and the conceptual line between human and machine are not permanent, but shifting and a place of struggle.

  17. Esteban, There’s a dividing line between our bodies and the world? Where is the dividing line? What does it mean to say humanity is eternal and unchangeable? Are you suggesting that the line between human and machine is only conceptual? If so then perhaps it isn’t permanent.

  18. Esteban, Thanks for the input. So, in your view, “post-modern” is the view that there is no distinction between humans and machines? I’m not feeling that as a feature of the post-modern” framework, but I understand you now.

    Yes, it is my view that in our “post-human” future some lines are blurred, but I think that you may be losing the distinction between being post-modern and being descriptive. The merging of man with machine will undoubtedly raise questions about what it means to be human.

    Thanks again. Good stuff.

  19. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    A traditional world-view would say that there is a clear dividing line between our bodies and the world, and that our humanity is eternal and unchanging. Your view is that the dividing line is not clear (or there isn’t such a line) and that the distinction between humans and machines will fade away. That’s postmodern!

  20. Esteban,

    I think I see where you are coming from, but if you look at what is commonly understood as post-modern, the object (ie. the signified – in this case humanity) would have to be “replaced by” the sign (In this case technology). Simply the merging of the two or blurring of the line does not by itself make this post-modern. In most semiotic discussions on the post-modern there is also an element of appropriation of the past. Take as an example the church integrating more liturgy to bring “homage” to the history of the church. In this example, the only appropriation is of the object itself, no?

    I am often confused and wrong, so please correct me if I missed your point 🙂

    DQ

  21. Thanks for this, Alex.

    I see two things side by side – connection and disconnection. Could it be that the greater the disconnectivity the greater the possibilities of connectivity? And this at all kinds of levels?

    I’m presently enjoying the pictures Leonard Sweet draws in his book ‘The Gospel According to Starbucks’ in which he speaks about the EPIC life, that is, life which is Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, and Connective. Starbucks seem to get what many “modern” churches do not.

  22. Geoffrey, that’s so true. Starbucks was on to something. I think that human disconnectedness will be like a growing pimple on the nose of the Age of Connectivity. The more interconnected we are the greater our sense and experience of disconnection.

    It’s like how getting married can often highlight how lonely a person can be. It is the continual physical proximity of another human being that makes acute our sense of distance from the other. But what makes it acute is the connection.

  23. I think one of the things missing from virtual connectivity that is present (at least theoretically) in physical connectivity is some form of accountability to connect. If I don’t “go to church” for a couple weeks, someone gives me a call or sends me an email or drops by the store to see how I am doing. If I forget to connect virtually, it is usually several months before anyone stops to ask why. The why may simply be that I got busy and forgot to check in. The why could also be some sort of serious personal problems.

    Physical connectivity, if it is genuine, forces accountability to the relationship. I don’t see a way around that online.

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